Gulf King Mackerel Amendment Ignores Value of the Recreational Fishery

Highlights

  • While not usually a primary target of Gulf of Mexico anglers, king mackerel season is open all year and provides opportunities for recreational fishing when other species are closed.
  • In most years, anglers harvest well under their allowable quota while commercial fishermen catch all the mackerel they are allowed to harvest.
  • The new Marine Recreational Information Program’s (MRIP) Fishing Effort Survey (FES) indicates that the stock is bigger than previously thought, and the Council is considering giving more fish to the commercial sector through Draft Amendment 33 to the Fishery Management Plan for Coastal Migratory Pelagic Resources.

Why it matters: Allocating fisheries resources between the commercial and recreational sectors is perhaps the most difficult decision a regional fishery management council will face. Many allocations were set decades ago and have not been adjusted because of the contentious nature of deciding who should get more fish and who should get less. The new Fishing Effort Survey (FES) of the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) has indicated that, for many marine species, recreational anglers have been catching more fish than previously thought. Since the federal fisheries management model is based largely on catch history, adjusting that catch history upwards has resulted in larger estimated fish populations and, thus, a larger overall quota available for harvest. However, despite a recent policy directive from NOAA and a Government Accountability Office study to provide advice on how to allocate fisheries, Amendment 33 to the Coastal Migratory Pelagic Fishery Management Plan proposed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is choosing to ignore those recommendations and shift allocation away from the recreational fishery to the commercial fishery with no justification.

While Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) red snapper has received all the attention in recent years, the Gulf has many other important recreational species for anglers to target, whether it be to harvest a fish for dinner or simply spending time on the water practicing catch and release. King mackerel, commonly called “kings”, fit in both categories. Open year round, king mackerel provide for a fun fishing experience for both novice and experienced anglers alike, even if most are released.

The current king mackerel quota allocation, based on data from the 1970’s, is apportioned 68% to the recreational sector and 32% to the commercial sector. While the commercial sector harvests all their quota each year, the recreational sector leaves a significant portion of their fish in the water.

Unlike red snapper, where recreational anglers want to harvest the majority of the red snapper they catch, king mackerel are often released. However, leaving king mackerel in the water is important to provide for a robust population and increased chances of being successful on any given fishing trip. With red snapper, optimal yield is more about the pounds of fish available for harvest. However, for the king mackerel recreational fishery, a definition of optimal yield would be better expressed in maximizing opportunities to encounter fish.

The new Marine Recreational Information Program’s (MRIP) Fishing Effort Survey (FES) has found that recreational catch of king mackerel has been higher than previously thought, and the updated king mackerel stock assessment justifies an upwards revision of the available annual catch limit (ACL). Amendment 33 to the Fishery Management Plan for Coastal Migratory Pelagic Resources currently before the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) would codify the increase. However, the amendment also seeks to give a portion, or all, of the increase in available fish to the commercial sector.

Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) Chris Horton spoke against the reallocation portion of Amendment 33 at last week’s Gulf Council meeting in Orange Beach, Alabama. Horton testified that while CSF supports the increase in the ACL based on the recommendations of the Science and Statistical Committee, we could not support any action on the reallocation of king mackerel quota to the commercial sector in this amendment. It fails to incorporate any evaluation of social or economic implications of the shift, ignoring the recent NOAA policy directive on reallocation. Horton reiterated the importance and value of leaving fish in the water to provide recreational angling opportunities when other seasons are closed. He urged the Gulf Council to take up the reallocation discussion in a different amendment that truly evaluates the importance of this fishery, and any reallocation impacts from a social, economic, and environmental perspectives.

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